At Halloween, a haunted Christian debate

I'm munching on a jack-o-lantern-shaped Butterfinger as I type this, so I suppose I'm not one of those "conservative and fundamentalist Christians" who think "Halloween is a celebration of evil and has no place in the life of a believer." Either that, or I just really love chocolate.

Seriously, the above description of how some Christians view Halloween came from a CNN report with this headline:

A Christian debate over Halloween: Counter, co-opt, or embrace it?

Now, my first thought when I saw the headline was this: Pity the poor reporter forced to cover that breaking news. Your GetReligionistas certainly sympathize with journalists challenged with finding a fresh angle to the same ole annual occurrence.

That said, this particular story falls a few goblins short of the high journalistic quality that frequently characterizes CNN's Belief Blog. For one thing, there's no actual debate. Rather, there are three pastors quoted, identified as a conservative, a fundamentalist and a mainline Protestant. In fact, a reliance on vague labels haunts the piece throughout, with the terms conservative, fundamentalist and mainline appearing seven times.

From the "conservative" side:

Some Christians, like Hernandez, believe Halloween’s pagan roots can open the door to evil. That’s why Worshipwalk is hosting a harvest festival in its church parking lot on Monday, with kids’ games and face painting.

Hernandez calls it harvesting hearts for God.

Not mentioned are the thousands of churches — conservative and otherwise — nationwide that host "trunk-or-treat" events in their parking lots, fully embracing the Halloween holiday if not the pagan past. This certainly appears to be a growing trend that might add a fresh angle to the story. Of course, it would require a bit of journalistic digging to see if there's any hard data to back up my suspicion.

From the "fundamentalist" side:

Some conservative churches go a step further, attempting to co-opt the holiday with haunted houses - called “hell houses” - that are designed to give a glimpse of eternal damnation in hopes of strengthening faith.

“There’s Satan’s lies and there’s Jesus’ redemption and there’s a message that will change your life,” said Keenan Roberts, who says he is the inventor of the hell house, which people walk or call through, just as they would a haunted house.

Now, Christian hell houses have been making headline for 15 to 20 years. I wrote an Associated Press story nearly a decade old on the concept, including the milder "Judgement Houses" — which remain in the news. Unfortunately, CNN provides no context at all to understand whether this not-so-new development is still the rage or a flickering approach.

From the "mainline" side:

Mainline Protestants tend to take a much softer line on Halloween, with some mainline churches embracing it.

Is there a source on this? Is there any survey data? Is Halloween really an issue for most, or even many, evangelical Christians in 2011? What about Roman Catholics? Why no mention of such a large contingent of Christians in a report such as this?

Another unexplored angle: trick-or-treating as a time for evangelicals to hand out salvation tracts.

Meanwhile, my Butterfinger has disappeared. Next on the agenda: a fun-size Snickers.

Halloween image via Shutterstock.

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